I recently attended a week-long workshop called World as Lover, World as Self. It was taught by Joanna Macy, a wise, powerful and funny 87-year-old, long-time ecological activist and teacher, who wrote a book by that name and several others, and who is the originator of this work. In this workshop I and the 40 or so others participating engaged in intensive imaginative and contemplative exercises with each other aimed towards creating a greater sense of effective engagement with the overwhelming challenges of our time; climate change, nuclear weapons build-up, species extinction to name just a few. In doing so, many of us had to encounter another, more subtle and implicit challenge. We had to engage fears of changing, or becoming somehow different. Would we allow ourselves to open to the pain of knowing so much is at risk, so much is being lost. Could we bear the terror of contemplating the end of our world? Could we witness and accept the rage we feel in being betrayed by those in power? Could we grieve?
We could. And we did. And one of the essential ingredients in making that possible was our compassionate holding of each other’s pain, rage and grief. Compassion for our world brought us together, moved us to change and allowed us to change. Through our shared compassion for ourselves and our world, we not only felt more deeply and more fully than we had before, but we saw the possibility of action, of power and change being affected in the world around us. Compassion helped us feel stronger together because we no longer had to hold ourselves apart from each other in order to hide our pain, from ourselves, or each other. Was it scary? Of course! But each of us knew that fearful defensive isolation was leading us to the abyss as a world. The only way forward is linked together in compassion. One step at a time.